Tony Jones on the Kingdom of God

Kingdom of God

This post is part of an ongoing guest blogger series on the kingdom of God.

Tony Jones

Today, we will hear from Tony Jones:

Maybe you’ve seen this before: some well-meaning evangelist spray-paints “jesus is the answer” on the side of a railroad bridge. Then some smart aleck comes by later and adds “so what’s the question?”

It seems to many emergents that the question is difficult, intricate: What is the meaning of life? Why is there evil in the world? How is God involved in our lives? Just what is the “Kingdom of God”? How can we be involved in God’s work in the world? These are hard questions, and they demand nuanced, complex answers. So we fight back against a world that vaunts simple solutions to complex problems, and we do so, first, by encouraging the questions. Making room for the questions is one of the aspects of emergent Christianity that many seekers appreciate. As a result, emergent Christians often get labeled as “slippery.” They’re told they don’t answer questions directly but answer instead with another (often deconstructive) question. But, these questions are actually attempts to get to the assumptions underlying the initial question.

So questioning is not an act of defiance on the emergents’ part. It is a trait of integrity.

When someone asks, “What is the Gospel, in a nutshell?” I often quote my friend, philosopher of religion Jack Caputo, who wrote of the philosophical impulses of “deconstruction”: “Nutshells close and encapsulate, shelter and protect, reduce and simplify, while everything in deconstruction is turned toward opening, exposure, expansion, and complexification, toward releasing unheard of, undreamt of possibilities to come, toward cracking nutshells wherever they appear.”

This statement could just as easily be made about the gospel, the Kingdom of God, or Jesus himself.

Tony Jones is the national coordinator of Emergent Village and the author of the book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, from which the above passage is an excerpt.


  1. chris says

    Mr. Jones,

    I agree with you that questioning is a trait of integrity, and that questioning often leads to opening, exposing, expanding, and complexifying. However, questioning should also have as its ends elicudation and illumination. One asks a question because one desires to know. When one asks, “what is the Gospel in a nutshell?” it may be worthwhile to quote your friend Caputo–broadening one’s horizon is a good thing–but the answer to the question should not ultimately be about nutshells. The question was about the gospel; the person wants to know about the gospel, albeit in a summarized, pared down kind of way. I think you are right to inform the questioner that there are no easy answers, but to leave it at that is rather “slippery” and possibly evasive. So hypothetically, if someone were to ask you about the Kingdom of God, hopefully sans nutshell, is this response really what you would offer her–a statement on questions and the gospel that can be applied to the Kingdom of God and even Jesus?

  2. says

    Well said. Thanks, Adam, for including this post.
    There is nothing unslippery about Jesus, that is of course, if we allow the real Jesus to be the one we follow. Following Jesus is risky and disenchanting to popular, comfortable life. If we are daring enough to follow we may slip and fall away from empire worship including the state-nation and the doctrines that suppossedly define the church.

  3. Tony Jones says

    Chris: Yes, that’s what I would say…to begin. And that’s essentially what I do say. I will affirm things about God, Jesus, the Kingdom, etc., but I will also hasten to add that my articulation of such things is fleeting and inadequate. People may want to know about the gospel or the kingdom in a pared down way, but why should I accommodate that sin of theirs? :-)

    Niccolo: While you make some decent points to which I would be happy to respond, I do not respond to anonymous missives. Good advice for a pastor, better advice for a blogger. Show your true identity, and I’ll be happy to engage you.

  4. says

    “We have to insist that whatever is to make for progress in theology must be thought through. Otherwise, what is intended as progress never gets beyond setting up statements than which nothing greater can be conceived, but into which no thinking can penetrate.” – Eberhard Jungel, God’s Being is in Becoming, p. 136.

  5. says

    I agree with Tony that it’s a mistake to fall into easy reductionism. But you can also get completely lost in deconstruction. I like this story of Karl Barth (one of the most verbose and abstract 20th century theologians): Someone asked Barth what his theology was, in a nutshell. Barth paused for a moment, and then replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That’s both a brilliant answer in a nutshell, and a new challenge to ask the questions all over again.

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